Cougars Rally Late to Scratch Out Victory over Dogs
By Jack Ankony, The Chicago Dogs
Jake Dahlberg gave his signature fist pump as he walked off the mound after striking out Jack Surin to end the top of the sixth inning.
Dahlberg had just completed his longest start of the season, a six-sinning outing in which he allowed five hits, four earned runs, one walk and seven strikeouts. T.J. Bennett tied the game at four the following inning, but Bennett and Dahlberg’s efforts came up just short as the Dogs lost to the Kane County Cougars 7-4 on Thursday.
Heading into his start, Dahlberg’s gameplan was to get ahead and stay ahead in the count by working up and down in the zone while staying aggressive. Dahlberg is a big believer in challenging hitters with pitches in the zone and not wasting energy on non-competitive pitches.
“Having that mentality of ‘I’m going to beat you over the plate regardless,’ maybe sometimes they’ll get a hit, but the numbers say I’m going to win more often than not,” Dahlberg said.
Through 11 appearances in the 2021 season, ranging from starts to relief outings, Dahlberg has never walked more than one batter in a game. For Dahlberg, competing is what he loves to do, which is why he never backs down from a challenge when he takes the mound.
The fist pump often seen from Dahlberg after strikeouts is never to taunt a hitter, but rather a mental affirmation to himself. In his mind, getting outs is expected and a fist pump his way of releasing emotion while confirming that he executed his plan. But he is always locked in on staying in the moment.
“I get right back on the mound and it’s like ‘Alright let’s go’ because you try to carry that momentum,” Dahlberg said. “I feed off it to be honest. I love it.”
Dahlberg’s 3.79 ERA currently ranks 11th in the American Association among qualified pitchers. But what makes this more notable is the way Dogs manager Butch Hobson has utilized Dahlberg. After being in the Dogs starting rotation during 2019 and 2020, Dahlberg has made six relief appearances and five starts in 2021.
Before the season, Dahlberg asked if he could be used as a reliever after starting games for his entire career. He thought coming out of the bullpen would give him a better chance to advance his career, which has forced a slight change in his mentality on the mound.
While being used in this hybrid role, Dahlberg said he has challenged himself mentally to find a balance in his approach. Coming out of the bullpen, Dahlberg might psyche himself up to face three hitters, but when he is the game’s starter, he focuses on ways he can pitch deeper into games.
“The more I can take the ‘Okay, let’s go, I got three guys’ mentality and do that every inning and just simplify that, it’s going to help with starting,” Dahlberg said.
Dahlberg is an intense pitcher on the mound, which has earned him the nickname “Bulldog” at times during his baseball career. But he is also aware of the importance of relaxation and mental focus, where another dog comes into play. His road-trip companion Stella.
During the Dogs most recent road trip to Fargo, North Dakota, Dahlberg had the opportunity to bring his dog Stella aboard the team bus. Stella has frequented the Dogs clubhouse over the past three seasons, but this was her first bus ride with the team.
Stella slept on Dahlberg’s lap for the entirety of the nearly 10-hour bus ride, aside from a few walks up and down the bus to inspect the players’ snack supply. Dahlberg said if brining Stella on long road trips can simply put a smile on his teammates’ faces, it could help them feel better going into a game.
And for Dahlberg, she helps him find a balance between his in-game mentality and postgame reflection.
“She’s very therapeutic,” Dahlberg said. “That intensity when I’m fist pumping out there, she calms me down and I need that sometimes.”